Data science student turns great plays into great insights
A competitive advantage means everything in both business and athletics—and acquiring that upper hand takes hard work, unique insight, and the capacity to constantly improve. Bryant University Data Science major Jonathan Riordan ’23 is studying that edge across a range of sports, while also honing his own skillset along the way.
You can go to the stat lines to see how a game was played, Riordan says, but crunching the numbers offers insight into why. “You’re gaining a real sense of what a team is doing right and what they’re doing wrong — but it goes even further than that,” he says. “You can start to predict the likely outcome of specific events and how to change them.”
Riordan’s latest project, recently published on Medium, examined Bryant’s Division I men’s basketball team as they compete in their first year of American East Conference play. Using the Python programming language, which he learned in his Data Science courses at Bryant, he studied a range of team stats, from shooting accuracy to turnover percentages across the conference.
The Bulldogs, he predicted, will edge out rival UMass Lowell in the conference championship, earning their second trip to the NCAA Tournament in two years. “I might be a little biased,” Riordan admits, “but I think the numbers bear it out.” He also granted there were more games to be played and that the analysis might change as the season evolves.
Riordan also uses his analytics skills to generate real results on the field. He heads up the baseball division of the Bryant University Bryant Think Tank, a student organization that crunches data for the University’s Division I athletics teams. “It’s a great opportunity to collaborate with other students and work with the teams to provide some real insights.”
Learning to analyze
Riordan’s impulse to push himself and try new things led him to study data science. “I really loved the idea of being able to solve problems with data analysis and the sense of accomplishment you feel when you write a program that works,” he says. “It’s amazing what you can do with just a few lines of code.”
His professors, Riordan notes, prepare their students to tackle any challenge. “The Data Science faculty are experts in so many different areas,” he says. “And it’s a complex and evolving field, so they want to make sure you have the independence to handle whatever you come across as a professional.”
That means providing both tools and opportunities for experiential learning. The Programming for Data Science course he took, taught by Assistant Professor of Information Systems ML Tlcahac, taught him the skills and resources needed for analytics work. A recent class project he worked on for a course on big data analytics taught by Department Chair and Professor of Information Systems and Analytics Suhong Li saw him analyze the predictors of type two diabetes for Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island and present his work to company representatives , which gave him much needed practice with using data to solve actual problems.
“We had to work as a team and use everything we knew and all of our resources,” says Riordan. “It was definitely a challenge, but it also made me a better data scientist.”
As he learns more from his coursework, he’s always adding a new piece to the puzzle: a new resource to draw from, for instance, or a new visualization method that helps him share his findings more clearly. “Every project is a steppingstone,” Riordan points out.
He already has his eye on his next challenge. “You don’t really hear much about golf analytics,” he notes. “That’s something I’d really like to explore in the future.”
To learn more about Bryant’s 25 Division I varsity sports teams, visit www.bryantbulldogs.com.